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Barcelona: Cram in the sights, then hit the beach

City Slicker: Catalonia's capital is always changing. But its cool factor is ever present. Simone Kane offers tips for new and returning visitors

Why visit?

Barcelona will never go out of fashion.

Its comprehensive checklist of cultural attractions, an ever-changing restaurant and bar scene, and the laid-back mix of city and beach lure us back time and again to this compact city. Spend the morning ticking off must-sees such as the Boqueria market, Picasso Museum and Sagrada Familia, then, as the temperature rises, abandon the sights and hit the beach. With nearly three miles of seafront, a sandy spot isn't hard to find at Barceloneta and Sant Sebastia, both just a walk away from the old town.

There's also a confident Catalan culinary scene to explore including the latest venture from the Adria brothers, 41° and Tickets (see below), plus the revival of regional dishes at Bossborn Tapas (Pla de Palau, 13), and the theatrical approach to tapas taken at Comerc 24. Explore the boutiques that celebrate independent, domestic design, craftsmanship and style, such as the cleverly assembled vintage homewares and clothing in Magnolia Antic (magnoliaantic.es), in the Eixample, and Loisaida (loisaidabcn .com) – or "lower east side" – in El Born. A copy of the map from Made a Ma, which is available from tourist offices and shops, will guide you around the independent traders of this district.

To keep up with the city's social and cultural scene, log on to the weekly digital magazine le cool (lecool.com/barcelona). It highlights events such as pop-up creative spaces that you might otherwise miss.

Don't miss

The Ramblas

Probably Barcelona's most famous thoroughfare, slices through the city's heart, running south from Placa Catalunya to the statue of Columbus overlooking the port.

Shopping at La Boqueria (boqueria .info)

Barcelona's huge, world-famous public market, just off the Ramblas.

The Placa Reial

Which might be a little touristy, but this buzzing square is frequented by locals too, who come to eat and drink at its restaurants.

Sagrada Familia (barcelonaturisme. com).

It seems they'll never stop working on Gaudi's unfinished labour of love, but thousands of people flock daily to see the progress on the cathedral that dominates the skyline.

A Gaudi tour with audioguide (barcelonaturisme.com)

To get to know the architecture of the city's most famous son, including Casa Batllo, Palau Guell and La Pedrera.

Teleferico de Montjuic (barcelona turisme.com).

For panoramic views of the city and port, take a ride on the refurbished cable car that transports you high above Parc Montjuic.

The Nou Camp tour

See the stadium of football's reigning Champions League winners (fcbarcelona.com).

Parc del Tibidabo (barcelonaturisme.com).

Get your thrills at the amusement park that stands on the city's highest point and combines vintage rides with hi-tech attractions.

The Picasso Museum (museupicasso .bcn.es).

Set in five 13th- and 14th-century Gothic palaces, this is a showcase of the artist's early years.

Barcelona Aquarium (aquariumbcn .com).

Head underground for a relaxing place to cool off. Among the 11,000 marine inhabitants are five sunfish, which are being temporarily nurtured here until they can return to their natural habitat in the Med.

Joan Miro Foundation (fundaciomiro-bcn.org)

Has the most important public collection of the artist's work, including Woman Dreaming of Escape and The Caress of a Bird.

The Palau de la Musica Catalana (palau musica.org).

Guided tours of this modernista architectural masterpiece help you to explore the innovative iron structure, sculptures and stained glass of this atmospheric classical concert venue, home of the Orfeo Catala choir.

The Parc Guell (barcelonaturisme.com).

Make the trip to Gaudi's colourful city garden project in the Gracia district.

What's New

El Born

With its village feel, El Born continues to be the scene of new openings more than a decade after its reinvention began. It's still the coolest enclave for visitors searching for a combination of historic charm, local character and thriving creativity. Young professionals flock here for the choice of chic and vintage boutiques such as Loisaida (loisaidabcn.com), Capricho de Muneca (caprichodemuneca .com) and Estudiotextil la Barcelana (labarcelana.es). The mix of traditional and contemporary cafés and restaurants that spill on to its cobbled streets offers welcome places to take a pause – try the tapas sculptures at Bilbao Berria (bilbaoberria) or kick back in Alsur Café (alsurcafe.com).

El Palace Hotel

Previously the Ritz, El Palace unveiled the final stage of its two-year, £27m facelift in early 2011. The hotel stands in the heart of the city on Gran Via. Past guests include Sophia Loren, Pierre Cardin and Woody Allen. It now offers 125 exquisitely redesigned bedrooms and 48 suites – including the Salvador Dali, where the surrealist often stayed. Some suites have restored original mosaic-tiled sunken baths. The grand public areas have been restored using original photographs and include ornate features such as chandeliers, gold leaf and imposing fireplaces. The fabric library of the renowned Florentine Rubelli manufacturing family has been consulted to renew the luxurious upholstery, while a mix of specially sourced antiques and bespoke furniture completes the restoration of Europe's oldest Ritz hotel. The Caelis restaurant, which serves French and Catalan cuisine, regained its Michelin star within weeks of reopening, while the Rien de Rien basement bar is the evening haunt of live jazz and cocktail-lovers.

Details: hotel palacebarcelona.com

Rock Museum

The Museu del Rock opened its doors in April in the Las Arenas shopping centre on Placa d'Espanya. The Mudejar-style building that once housed the bull ring is the setting for the museum, which offers "a journey through the living history of rock". Six galleries explore themes including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Origins of Rock. In the On Stage area, put your talent to the test in front of a virtual audience.

Details: museudelrock.com


Spanish designer Rosa Esteva opened her second Cortana shop here last December. It's a stark, warren-like space in the Eixample district. The atmosphere is softened by her signature floaty, ethereal creations for women using fabrics such as pure silk tulle and cashmere.

Details: cortana.es

41° and Tickets

El Bulli's Albert and Ferran Adria have launched two adjoining bar-eateries. 41°, on Avinguda del Paralel, offers snacks such as gusanitos (puffed wild rice and curry) and crunchy algae with quinoa, with prices from £11. Tickets is divided into themed areas and serves creative tapas such as rabbit ribs with foamed garlic mayonnaise and razor clams with ginger oil. The surroundings are more casual than one might expect, but it's best to book.

Details: ticketsbar.es

Compact Facts

How to get there

Simone Kane travelled to Barcelona with BA Cityflyer (020-7111 8454; britishairways.com), which has daily return flights from £217. She stayed at the Hotel Miramar (00 34 932 811 600; hotelmiramarbarcelona.com), which has doubles from £143, and El Palace (00 34 93 510 11 30; hotelpalace barcelona.com), where deluxe doubles start at £274.

Further information

barcelonaturisme.com Hg2 Barcelona, £13.99

Insider Secret

Iris Hillier, Marketing consultant

"Monvinic serves a fantastic selection of wines. A touch-screen menu details origin, grape and bodega, and whenever they empty a bottle, they put a different wine on the list." (monvinic.com)